Throughout the history of America, the issue of social liberty has been in question since the beginning of the Civil War. Aside from social equality for blacks and immigrants, the issue of woman’s suffrage was slowly surfacing. As a result of Victorianism, women were domesticated and were expected to uphold proper behavior established by Victorian society. However, during the late 1800s, the progressive reform produced widespread consumer, political, and labor changes throughout the country. Women were more educated and given more opportunity to expand into new fields of employment. In addition, the emergence of flappers broke through all gender barriers by openly consuming, smoking cigarettes, and engaging in premarital sex. The transformation of gender and femininity from the 1880s through the 1920s marked the beginning of an era of gender equality by transforming many social, economical, and political aspects of American society.
Prior to the first progressive reform, American society was shaped by Victorian ideals. During that time, Victorian propriety served to establish conventionally accepted standards of behavior or morals. This gave rise to the establishment of gender roles and the evolution of home life; a place that was private and isolated from the outside world. The homes generally reflected status of the individual living within. With the emergence of consumer and luxury goods, certain areas of the home were made into parlors. In the sense of a private home, a parlor served as a formal room set aside for the entertainment of guests. In addition, parlors served as a way to showcase an individual’s wealth with the presence of opulent rugs, paintings, and furniture.
Additionally, in the late 1800s, the Victorian ideal for femininity involved domesticity and submissiveness. Women exemplified purity and beauty; nevertheless, they were expected to focus entirely on raising children and domestic upkeep while primarily leaving the labor and finances to their husbands. Any job she took outside the home needed to be compatible with her household responsibilities. This included working in textile mills and other industries. But it was mostly young women who did so and, when they married, they usually left their jobs to tend to their households, which would soon include children.
However, during the 1890s, the definition of a “proper” woman was challenged by the invention of the safety bicycle. The transformation of gender and femininity was primarily a result of the emergence of advertisements. With advertising, women were exposed to different technological inventions which garnered lots of interest. According to Ellen Garvey, the safety bicycle offered a new form of mobility that was no longer reserved for males. This attracted feminists and other women but was not immune to conservative attack. As a result of Victorian ideology, women were expected to uphold their sexual purity. With the availability of the safety bicycle, conservatives...